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Shenzhen's bold move bolsters farmers' rights
By Zheng Li (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-07-01 14:50

Rural residents of Shenzhen are suddenly the envy of their countryside cousins in the rest of China.

Earlier this week Shenzhen unveiled an ambitious urbanization plan to re-register all residents of the special economic zone's rural outskirts as urban residents by the end of October.

Under China's household registration system, being a rural resident or an urban dweller means a world of difference.

Compared to their urban peers, rural residents receive few, if any, social benefits offered by the government.

Being branded a rural resident means no access to pension, healthcare and other social security and welfare services, which are privileges enjoyed only by urban residents, although all Chinese citizens are equal in constitutional terms.

When it comes to infrastructure, however, governments at all levels are engaged in a race against time to modernize. Thus the emphasis has always been on cities. In contrast, little has been spent on the vast under-developed rural areas.

The heavily-skewed focus on cities and neglect of the countryside has resulted in a so-called dual-structured society in China in which the urban-rural divide is growing.

That is why getting an urban identity has remained high on most rural residents' wish lists.

Calls for bridging the urban-rural divide and giving equal rights to rural residents have been growing in recent years and progress of varying degrees has been scored in different places.

Shenzhen's move, to instantly transform 270,000 rural residents into urban dwellers, is the boldest and most comprehensive.

With their new status those rural residents will be entitled to the same treatments as their urban cousins, including access to social welfares that have long been denied them.

A change on such scale is no doubt a mammoth burden on local finance. Beyond that, the city will have to provide adequate jobs for those farmers once their land is taken back into State hands or help them adjust to the new urban life.

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